Political Science

*Hitler’s Soldiers*

by on September 25, 2016 at 11:37 am in Books, History, Political Science | Permalink

The author is Ben H. Shepherd and the subtitle is The German Army in the Third Reich.  That may seem like a timeworn topic, but I found this book consistently fresh and interesting, also well-written, analytic throughout, one of the year’s best non-fiction studies.  Here is one bit:

Two occupied populations whom the German army particularly tried to cultivate were the Muslim peoples of the Crimea and the Caucasus.  The Sunni Tatars comprised a quarter of the Crimea’s population, and German army administrators saw them, as they would also come to see their Muslim brethren in the Caucasus, as presenting an opportunity to woo Islam in the Soviet Union for political and military gain.  The Germans granted the Tatars religious rights and concessions and reintroduced major religious holidays, and Manstein’s otherwise infamous November 1941 order required his troops to treat the Tatars with respect…the Germans appointed a Muslim committee to re-establish the religious infrastructure.

…Yet the failings of German occupation were soon apparent to these Muslim peoples.

Overall the message is that the German army was less effective and less moral [sic] than many other historians had suggested.  Recommended.

When should you place a higher penalty on transparently false outright repeated lies, and when should you be more upset by hypocrisy, namely a mix of altruism and self-interest and greed and defensiveness, bundled with self-deception and pawned off to everyone including yourself as sheer goodness?  In recent times the question has taken on further import.

From @EpicureanDeal:

“Here’s the part of the 2016 story that will be hardest to explain after it’s… over: Trump did not deceive anyone.”

From Deplorable Me:

reporters take Trump literally and not seriously. We take Trump seriously but not literally.

From Elberry’s Ghost:

in general, i prefer liars to hypocrites. A liar knows the truth and is cold-bloodedly trying to deceive you, probably for material profit or personal advantage, or malevolence – but in himself he knows the truth and so the situation is less unreal than with the hypocrite; for the hypocrite’s motive is often self-righteousness mingled with material profit and personal advantage. And the hypocrite believes his own lies, so the situation is wholly unreal, saturated with deception. With the liar one can at least guess there is a real human being somewhere behind the lies, watching, calculating; and sometimes in the midst of the deception one catches this real human being’s eye, and there is a moment of mutual recognition – that he is lying and he knows she is lying, and you know too, but of course neither will say so. With the hypocrite, all is false – through and through deception.

For purposes of illumination, say you treat this as a principal-agent problem.  You sometimes prefer if your children lie to you transparently than if they are more deviously hypocritical, even if the lies in the former case are greater.  The former case establishes a precedent that you can see through their claims, and they will not try so hard to disguise the fraud.  So transparent lies about taking out the garbage are excused if you know you can see through the later claims about drugs and drink and prepping for the SAT.

You are more worried about the hypocrite when you see bigger decisions and announcements down the road than what is being faced now.  You are more worried about the hypocrite when you fear disappointment, and have experienced disappointment repeatedly in the past.  You are more worried about the hypocrite when you fear it is all lies anyway.  Lies, in a way, give you a chance to try out “the liar relationship,” whereas hypocrisy does not.  You thus fear that hypocrisy may lead to a worse outcome down the road or at the very least more anxiety along the way.

But note: for a more institutional and distanced principal-agent relationship, it is often incorrect, and indeed dangerous, to rely on your intuitions from personalized principal-agent problems.

When it comes to how the agent speaks to allies and enemies, you almost always should prefer hypocrisy to bald-faced lies.  The history and practice of diplomacy show this.  Allies and enemies, especially from other cultures, don’t know how to process the lies the way you can process the blatant lies of your children, friends, and spouse.  They will think some of these lies are mere hypocrisy and that can greatly increase uncertainty and maybe lead to open conflict.  North Korea aside, the prevailing international equilibrium is “hypocrisy only,” and those are the signals everyone has decades of experience in reading.

Josh Barro tweeted:

People pretending to be better than they are is what holds society together.

International society too.

There is such a hullaballoo in my Twitter feed every day about the lies.  “It is now time to expose the lies!”  I feel sad when I read this, because many of the American people already are putting up with the lies or even welcoming them.  I do not see that as a correct course of action, as it is confusing personal morality with the abstract rules and principles that underlie social order (which is what voters almost always do, by the way).  We need continuing hypocrisy in the international order, and thus from our distanced political agents, even if we don’t want more of it in our personal lives.

I do not see enough people trying to understand lies vs. hypocrisy.  In fact it is tough for many people to make this leap, because doing so requires a Hayekian stress on the distinction between the personal and the abstract political and rules-based order.  That distinction does not always come easily to the non-Hayekians who comprise most of my Twitter feed.  They are very quick to invoke their own personal morality to attempt to settle political disputes.

Note also that if citizens care more about hypocrisy than lies, the media will in turn be harsher with hypocrisy than outright lies.  Some foundations will be covered (and criticized) more than others, even if the less-covered foundation has done more wrong and in a more blatant manner.  Covering hypocrisy also usually involves a longer story with more successive revelations and more twists and turns and narrative suspense and room for ambiguity and competing interpretations.

Furthermore, in this equilibrium the defenders of the morality of the hypocritical agent will in fact make things worse for that agent.  The hypocrisy will become not just a personal hypocrisy of the agent, but rather a broader, almost conspiratorial hypocrisy of greater society.  So the more you think one (hypocritical) agent is getting unfair press coverage, and the more you defend that agent, the worse you make it for that agent.

Talking about the lies of the lying agent may help that agent win popularity, by turning voter attention to the “lies vs. hypocrisy” framing rather than “experience vs. incompetence.”  The lying agent has at least some chance in the former battle, but not much in the latter.

I wonder if earnest Millennials have a special dislike of hypocrisy.

Think about it.  Or if not, at least pretend you will.

Here is one bit from a very good column:

She’s always been the duller, unfashionable foil.

Her donor base and fund-raising style is out of another era. Obama and Sanders tapped into the energized populist base, but Clinton has Barbra Streisand, Cher and a cast of Wall Street plutocrats. Her campaign proposals sidestep the cutting issues that have driven Trump, Sanders, Brexit and the other key movements of modern politics. Her ideas for reducing poverty are fine, but they are circa Ed Muskie: more public works jobs, housing tax credits, more money for Head Start.

Interesting throughout.  Here were my earlier thoughts on the matter, cited by David too.  Here are thoughts from John Judis.

Or just a way to get rid of political opponents?  The news on this front is by no means entirely bad.  Xi Lu and Peter L. Lorentzen report:

In order to maintain popular support or at least acquiescence, autocrats must control the rapacious tendencies of other members of the governing elite. At the same time, the support of this elite is at least as important as the support of the broader population. This creates difficult tradeoffs and limits the autocrat’s ability to enforce discipline. We explore this issue in the context of Chinese leader Xi Jinping’s ongoing anti-corruption campaign. There have been two schools of thought about this campaign. One holds that it is nothing but a cover for intra-elite struggle and a purge of Xi’s opponents, while the other finds more credibility in the CCP’s claim that the movement is sincere. In this article, we demonstrate three facts, using a new dataset we have created. First, we use the political connections revealed by legal documents and media reports to visualize the corruption network. We demonstrate that although many of the corrupt officials are connected, Xi’s most prominent political opponent, Bo Xilai, is less central by any network measure than other officials who were not viewed as challenging Xi’s leadership. Second, we use a recursive selection model to analyze who the campaign has targeted, providing evidence that even personal ties to top leaders provided little protection. Finally, using another comprehensive dataset on the prefectural-city level, we show that the provinces later targeted by the corruption campaign differed from the rest in important ways. In particular, it appears that promotion patterns departed from the growth-oriented meritocratic selection procedures evidence in other provinces. Overall, our findings contradict the factional purge view and are more consistent with the view that the campaign is indeed primarily an attempt to root out systemic corruption problems.

The pointer is from the excellent Kevin Lewis.

Londonderry Derry

by on September 22, 2016 at 1:42 pm in History, Law, Political Science, Religion | Permalink

The city’s name is a point of political dispute, with unionists advocating the longer name, and nationalists advocating the shorter. A common attempt at compromise is to refer to the county as “Londonderry” and the city as “Derry”, but this is by no means universally accepted. Because of this, a peculiar situation arises as there is no common consensus either in politics or elsewhere as to which name is preferred; the city council is officially known as “Derry”, but the city is officially recognised as “Londonderry” by the Northern Ireland Executive and the UK government. Whilst road signs in the Republic of Ireland use “Derry”, alongside the Irish language translation “Doire”, road signs in Northern Ireland will always read (unless vandalised) “Londonderry”.

Here is the link.  I hope someday to go.

Lewis Davis has a newly published paper on that topic with the more elegant title “Individual Responsibility and Economic Development: Evidence from Rainfall Data.”  Here is the abstract:

This paper estimates the effect of individual responsibility on economic development using an instrument derived from rainfall data. I argue that a taste for collective responsibility was adaptive in preindustrial societies that were exposed to high levels of agricultural risk, and that these attitudes continue to influence contemporary social norms and economic outcomes. The link between agricultural risk and collective responsibility is formalized in a model of optimal parental socialization effort. Empirically, I find a robust negative correlation between rainfall variation, a measure of exogenous agricultural risk, and a measure of individual responsibility. Using rainfall variation as an instrument, I find that individual responsibility has a large positive effect on economic development. The relationships between rainfall variation, individual responsibility and economic development are robust to the inclusion of variables related to climate and agricultural and institutional development.

This kind of investigation is always going to be fraught with uncertainty and also controversy, given imperfections of data and methods.  Nonetheless I find this one of the more plausible macro-historical hypotheses, perhaps because of my own experience in central Mexico, where varying rainfall still is the most important economic event of the year, though it is rapidly being supplanted by the variability of tourist demand for arts and crafts.  And yes, they are largely collectivist, at least at the clan level, with extensive systems of informal social insurance and very high implicit social marginal tax rates on accumulated wealth.

Have you noticed it rains a lot in England?

Here are earlier and ungated/less gated versions of the paper.

Paul Krugman is upset that many Millennials are toying with the idea of voting for Gary Johnson rather than Hillary Clinton.  He offers a number of arguments, here is one of them:

What really struck me, however, was what the [Libertarian Party] platform says about the environment. It opposes any kind of regulation; instead, it argues that we can rely on the courts. Is a giant corporation poisoning the air you breathe or the water you drink? Just sue: “Where damages can be proven and quantified in a court of law, restitution to the injured parties must be required.” Ordinary citizens against teams of high-priced corporate lawyers — what could go wrong?

That is the opposite of the correct criticism.  The main problem with classical libertarianism is that it doesn’t allow enough pollution.  Under libertarian theory, pollution is a form of violent aggression that should be banned, as Murray Rothbard insisted numerous times.  OK, but what about actual practice, once all those special interest groups start having their say?  Historically, under the more limited government of the 19th century, it was big business that wanted to move away from unpredictable local and litigation-driven methods of control, and toward a more systematic regulatory approach at the national level.  There is a significant literature on this development, starting with Morton Horwitz’s The Transformation of American Common Law.

If you think about it, this accords with standard industrial organization intuitions.  Established incumbents prefer regulations that take the form of predictable, upfront high fixed costs, if only to limit entry.  And to some extent they can pass those costs along to consumers and workers.  The “maybe you can sue me, maybe you can’t” regime is more the favorite of thinly capitalized upstarts that have little to lose.

So under the pure libertarian regime, big business would come running to the federal government asking for systematic regulation in return for protection against the uncertain depredations of the lower-level courts.  It is fine to argue the court-heavy libertarian regime would be unworkable for this reason, or perhaps it would collapse into a version of the status quo.

That would be a much more fun column: “Libertarian view untenable, implies too high a burden on polluters.”  I’m not sure that would sway the Bernie Brothers however.

Some of the criticisms of libertarianism strike me as under-argued:

And if parents don’t want their children educated, or want them indoctrinated in a cult…Not our problem.

Rates of high school completion were below 70% for decades, until recently, in spite of compulsory education.  Parents rescuing children from the neglect of the state seems at least as common to me as vice versa.

And what is the status quo policy on taking children away from parents who belong to “cults”?  Unusual religions can be a factor in contested child custody cases (pdf), but in the absence of evidence of concrete harm, such as beatings or sexual abuse, the American government does not generally take children away from their parents, cult or not.  Germany and Norway differ on this a bit, for the most part this is, for better or worse, the American way.  That’s without electing Gary Johnson.

By the way, Gary Johnson slightly helps Hillary Clinton.  Although probably not with New York Times readers.

Haven’t you noticed this?

I have a simple hypothesis.  No matter what the media tells you their job is, the feature of media that actually draws viewer interest is how media stories either raise or lower particular individuals in status.  (It’s a bit like “politics isn’t about policy.”)  That’s even true for this blog, though of course that is never my direct intention.

But now you can see why people get so teed off at the media.  The status ranking of individuals implied by a particular media source is never the same as yours, and often not even close.  You hold more of a grudge from the status slights than you get a positive and memorable charge from the status agreements.

In essence, (some) media is insulting your own personal status rankings all the time.  You might even say the media is insulting you.  Indeed that is why other people enjoy those media sources, because they take pleasure in your status, and the status of your allies, being lowered.  It’s like they get to throw a media pie in your face.

In return you resent the media.

A good rule of thumb is that if you resent the media “lots,” you are probably making a number of other emotional mistakes in your political thought.

After Texas high school builds $60-million stadium, rival district plans one for nearly $70 million

Need I say more?  I will nonetheless:

In Frisco, which neighbors Allen and McKinney, the district will pay $30 million over several years to use the Dallas Cowboys’ new 12,000-seat practice field for high school football and soccer games, as well as graduation ceremonies.

Here is a nice bit of fiscal illusion:

In McKinney [one of the stadium-building districts], school taxes for property owners amount to $1.63 per $100 of assessed valuation. The tax rate had been higher in the recent past, but it fell 5 cents this year, partly because the district had dropped some old debt. Because of the 5-cent decrease, district officials repeatedly note, property owners will see their taxes go down, even as the new stadium goes up.

Jim Buchanan would be proud.  And it’s a good thing we have the public sector to protect us from negative-sum status-seeking games!

The original pointer is from Adam Minter.

Senior figures in the EU believe that Britain will give up on Brexit if they make negotiations as tough as possible, the Telegraph understands.

British officials are fighting to stop Europe adopting a no-compromise position in talks in the hope that the UK will change its mind about leaving the bloc.

This belief is fuelling the hardline message on issues like freedom of movement that have emerged from Berlin, Paris and Brussels in recent weeks.

More than five senior EU figures interviewed by the Telegraph this week expressed doubts that Britain would go through with Brexit when confronted by the “reality of the bureaucratic nightmare” and the “insane act of economic self-harm”, as they referred to Brexit.

One senior British official involved in the set up for the coming negotiations said the EU elite “seem to think the game is to make us change our minds”.

This stance has left officials fighting to explain to European leaders how “dangerous” a game they were playing, and how “unlikely” it was to succeed.

Here is the full story.  Speculative of course, but don’t forget this bit:

“Perhaps there was a time when this could not have got nasty,” said one source close to Mr Verhofstadt, “but when the Brexit minister calls the chief negotiator ‘Satan’ what response, really, does Britain expect?”

Do they really spell “fuelling” with two l’s?

I can think of a few candidate theories:

1. His views are the right views, more or less, and American voters recognized this.

2. A quite significant percentage of America is very directly racist.  I don’t mean statistical discrimination here, I mean “downright racist.”

3. Give Ray Fair (NYT) his Nobel Prize right here and now, economic conditions truly predict election results at the national level.

4. The “third term Party fatigue” effect is stronger in national elections than we had thought.

5. Hillary Clinton is a weaker candidate than many people had thought.  Maybe so, but that has to be unpacked a bit more.  I would try “the Democratic national establishment doesn’t understand why much of America trusts it so little, so it keeps on doing and saying unpopular things.  Those things include elevating some candidates and also encouraging them to take particular stances.”

6. As Robert D. Putnam suggested, ethnic diversity can lower the quality of governance, and this is one step along that path toward greater fractiousness.  This may blend into racism, but much of it is simply “fear of being in the losing coalition.”  The common claim that the electorate is more polarized than before fits into this.  You might try Ezra Klein’s podcast with Arlie Hochschild.

7. America is not ready for a woman president.  Or maybe it has to be a different kind of woman president, noting that Hillary, while she has passed through many filters, has not passed through the “truly popular with normal voters filter” in the same way that say Thatcher and Merkel did.  And no, New York isn’t normal, sorry people.

8. The Democrats have plenty of policy proposals, but only the Republicans are running on ideas.  And very often an idea beats no idea, even if the idea on the table is a bad one.

I don’t agree with #1, and while #4 sounds like a plausible part of the story to me, as a truly major explanation I find it hard to square with Obama’s continuing popularity.  #3 kicks in but as a dominant force, it seems hard to elevate when median household income just grew at 5.2%, inflation is low, there is no major war, gas prices are low, and asset prices are high.

On #2, I see #5 as a more convincing statement of related ideas, while admitting #2 is a factor.  How well the Democrats do in the Senate might give us some bead on the relative import of #5.

Overall I am seeing a lot of room for #5 and #6 and #7 and #8.  Presumably 5, 6, and 8 are hard for many Democrats to admit, and I genuinely wonder how their thoughts run in the quiet of their homes.  Some are plugging hard for an extreme version of #2, but, as long as we are considering matters of prejudice, I find the gender bias of #7 easier to swallow.  We did after all just elect Obama for two terms in a row, and we have never ever had a woman president or even a serious contender before.

If, I wish to stress that word if.  But that he is still in the running, and making it close, is reason enough to ponder these questions.

1. Jacobs was born in Scranton, PA, but moved to NYC in 1932 and as early as 1935 she had published some of her impressions of the city in a multi-part series in Vogue magazine.  Earlier, she had written poetry for the Girl Scouts’s magazine, American Girl.

2. She published a 1941 book on the intellectual foundations of the American Constitution, with Columbia University Press under her maiden name Jane Butzner and the title Constitutional Chaff.  At about the same time her manuscript was being accepted, she was kicked out of Columbia for taking too many extended studies classes, and not allowed admission to Barnard.

3. In 1940 she wrote an article based on her study of the embossed acronyms on manhole covers.

4. She then worked as writer during WWII for the Office of War Information and the State Department.  Before Pearl Harbor, she had been an isolationist.

5. Henri Pirenne’s work on medieval cities was one of the biggest influences on her.

6. In the 1940s, she also worked for a metals industry magazine, and smoked a pipe in her office.  They started to wonder whether she was a troublemaker.

7. She married an architect in 1944, then taking the name Jacobs.  They enjoyed bicycling and sociometry together.  She had sons in 1948 and 1950.

8. Alger Hiss had been her superior at the State Department, and in the late 1940s Jacobs was investigated for possible Communist ties, in part because she had tried to apply for a visa to Siberia, using Hiss as her contact.  She stated in response that she abhorred communism and favored radical decentralization.

There is much more!  But that is a taste from the new and excellent Becoming Jane Jacobs, a runs-up-through 1972 biography by Peter L. Laurence, definitely one of the best books of the year.  This is the biography of Jacobs I have wanted to read for forty years.

Addendum: There is a new Jane Jacobs movie coming to the Toronto film festival.

Later this year, roughly 6,000 people in Kenya will receive regular monthly payments of about a dollar a day, no strings attached, as part of a policy experiment commonly known as basic income.

…In a recent GiveDirectly blog post, the charity’s Kenya-based official, Will Le, explains that refusal rates in East Africa have typically held steady between 4% and 6% in past cash transfer trials. They’ve been especially low in countries like Uganda and Rwanda. In one Kenyan region known as Homa Bay, however, the rates have risen as high as 40%.

…GiveDirectly’s investigations have shown that people who refuse the cash are skeptical. They find it “hard to believe that a new organization like GiveDirectly would give roughly a year’s salary in cash, unconditionally,” Le writes. “As a result, many people have created their own narratives to explain the cash, including rumors that the money is associated with cults or devil worship.”

Here is the full story, the pointer is from the excellent Samir Varma.  And here is the GiveDirectly response.

Samir also refers us to this study of why not all states have legalized medical marijuana, here is one result: “If all 50 states had legalized medical marijuana by 2014, according to their estimates, that could translate to savings of $1.5 billion per year in Medicaid spending.”

Barack Obama’s campaign adopted data but Hillary Clinton’s campaign has been molded by data from birth. Politico has the remarkable story:

Staff in Clinton’s analytics department sit under a sign that hangs from the ceiling with the words “statistically significant” printed on it. And overnight, in some of the few hours that headquarters isn’t whirring with activity, the team’s computers run 400,000 simulations of the fall campaign in what amounts to a massive stress-test of the possibilities on Nov. 8.

…“I have never seen a campaign that’s more driven by the analytics,” [one] strategist said. It’s not as if Kriegel’s data has ever turned around Clinton’s campaign plane; it’s that her plane almost never takes off without Kriegel’s data charting its path in the first place.

…Among the pioneering areas Kriegel’s analytics team has studied, according to people familiar with the operation, is gauging not just whom to talk to, how to talk to them and what to say — but when to say it. Is the best time to contact a voter, say, 90 days before the election? 60 days? One week? The night before? It is a question Obama’s team realized was crucial to mobilizing voters in 2012 but had never been truly analyzed. With a full calendar of competitive primaries, Kreigel and his team had plenty of chances to run rigorous, control-group experiments to ferret out answers to such questions earlier this year.

Here is one fascinating bit on the algorithms that were used to estimate delegate flippability in the primary:

First, the campaign ranked every congressional district by the probability that campaigning there could “flip” a delegate into Clinton’s column. Because every district has a different number of delegates allocated proportionally (in Ohio, for instance, 12 districts had 4 delegates each while one had 17), this involved polling and modeling Clinton’s expected support level, gauging the persuadability of voters in a particular area and then seeing how close Clinton was to a threshold that would tip another delegate in her direction. (At the most basic level, for instance, districts with an even number of delegates, say 4, are far less favorable terrain, as she and Bernie Sanders were likely split them 2-2 unless one of them achieved 75 percent of the vote.)

That so-called “flippability score” was then layered atop which media markets covered which seats. If a media market touched multiple districts with high “flippability” scores, it shot up the rankings. Then the algorithm took in pricing information, and what television programs it predicted the most “flippable” voters would be watching, to determine what to buy.

The irony? More questions are being asked, more data is being collected and more randomized experiments are being run in the effort to win the presidency than will ever be used to choose policy by the presidency. Sad.

Strauss’s pedagogical method was famous for its simplicity and directness.  A student would be asked to read a passage from the work being discussed; Strauss would make a comment or two, noting contradictions or discrepancies with earlier passages; a student might then raise a question, which would lead Strauss to digress, taking it to a much higher level and illustrating with with often earthy examples.  (He was particularly fond of examples from a newspaper advice column of the time, “Dear Abby.”)  Then on to the next passage.

That is from Mark Lilla’s new book The Shipwrecked Mind: On Political Reaction.  There is also this bit from the book:

Michel Houellebecq is not angry.  He does not have a program, and he is not shaking his fist at the nation’s traitors…He appears genuinely to believe that France has, regrettably and irretrievably, lost its sense of self, but not because of feminism or immigration or the European Union or globalization.  Those are just symptoms of a crisis that was set off two centuries ago when Europeans made a wager on history: that the more they extended human freedom, the happier they would be.  For him, that wager has been lost.  And so the continent is adrift and susceptible to a much older temptation, to submit to those claiming to speak for God.  Who remains as remote and as silent as ever.

I enjoy such books.  But in earlier times I preferred Ann Landers to Dear Abby.